How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

Yup, that's right—healthy eating doesn't have to be expensive!

Stepping up to the cash register at the grocery store these days is a gut punch, and I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one who’s feeling this way. 

When times get tough, it can be tempting to turn to cheap processed foods like ramen to fill out our meals without putting gouges in our wallets.

But don’t despair, it is absolutely possible to stay healthy while sticking to a tight budget. You just have to be a little more strategic and creative.

In this article, you’ll get tips straight from a fellow belt tightener-cum-health enthusiast. How to eat healthy on a budget, including everything from the very basics like learning to cook at home to ways to save a buck that may surprise you!

An infographic listing ways to stay healthy while on a budget.

Start Cooking at Home

I hate to be the bearer of bad/annoying news, but regularly ordering takeout is probably one of the quickest ways to drain your bank account. Not to mention that it can be pretty unhealthy.

I know it’s convenient, especially when you feel like you’ve got nothing to eat and you’re feeling too tired to cook.

However, consider this: little of the money you spend on Uber Eats or DoorDash goes towards the restaurant and your delivery driver. An evergrowing percentage of your total is attributed to service fees, delivery fees, tips, and taxes. You should also try to reduce the amount you eat out to stay healthy. Fast food and even restaurant-quality food can be high in salt, sugar, and saturated fat, making these meals to eat sparingly or just for special occasions.

Create a Budget

Establishing a budget before you hit the store will give you an idea of how much you can realistically spend each time you go grocery shopping.

Make sure your budget includes money for grocery shopping and random meals throughout the month when you might grab a quick bite to eat while out, coffee, or drinks at the bar.

Your budget will vary widely depending on your:

  • Location
  • Income
  • Number of people in your household
  • Dietary requirements. 

You could expect to spend between $250-300 (very thrifty) to $450-500 (very liberal) per month per adult.

Make a Meal Plan

Part of the trick to sticking to your food budget and eating healthy requires planning ahead and making a meal plan full of nutritious meals for the week.

Check out our Recipes section for inspiration on what to make for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks that will keep you full and help you hit your protein goals.

If you want to stick to a particular calorie or protein goal, input your meal plan into a food-tracking app like MyFitnessPal, Cronometer, or (my favorite) My Net Diary. You can also use our TDEE Calorie Counter to figure out how many calories you should be eating a day.

Here’s an example of a 7-day clean eating meal plan to help get you started.

Make a Shopping List

Okay, you’ve got your budget and meal plan. Now it’s time to go grocery shopping. 

Here’s one of the best pieces of advice on this list—do not walk into the grocery store without first checking your pantry and refrigerator, making a shopping list, and having a quick snack if you’re hungry.

Going into the grocery store without a solid list—and on an empty stomach—is a surefire way to overspend and pick up those guilty pleasures we’re trying to eat less of.

If you want to know exactly what you will be spending, download the app for your local grocery store and sign up for the rewards or valued customer program.

This will help you take advantage of the daily and weekly sales and also see ahead of time how much everything will cost if they have an “add to cart” feature for delivery or pick up. 

You can also avoid the risk of snacking-while-shopping altogether by using these services instead (only if they’re free or heavily discounted of course).

Cheaper Product Alternatives (That Are Just as Healthy)

Now that we know some of the basics of putting together healthy meals and spending less money let’s go over some ways to save by swapping out items for ones that are cheaper but just as healthy.

In general, we recommend avoiding processed foods where possible. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some options that can work for your budget and still be healthy.

Frozen Foods

Our first recommendation for cheap and healthy foods is frozen fruits and vegetables.

Fresh produce can pose two problems—one, they can be expensive and, two, they go bad.

With frozen food, you will get a cheaper product per ounce if you purchase it in bulk, and it will last as long as it remains frozen.

Additionally, frozen food is:1

  • More effective at maintaining foods’ nutritional value than other forms of preservation
  • Higher in nutrients, sometimes even more than fresh food
  • Safer to eat since microbes cannot form at all (or as quickly) under freezing conditions
  • Longer lasting than other forms of preservation

Frozen food can also reduce prep time since they are typically cut up or diced.

For example, you can make smoothies in half the time with frozen fruits or throw some frozen vegetables into your chicken stir fry and have dinner ready in a flash.

Canned Food

Second to frozen food, the next-best preservation technique has to be canned goods. 

Canned goods don’t require refrigeration, meaning they can last for years in your pantry or basement, saved for a rainy day (or a global pandemic), ready to eat when you need it.

Some of the best budget options are canned fish and beans. 

Fresh fish, especially fatty fish like salmon and sardines, is a fantastic source of protein. It is low in fat and high in nutrients, such as vitamin D, that can’t be found in similar quantities in other foods.

However, fresh fish can be expensive, especially if you buy higher quality such as wild-caught. 

Canned fish like tuna, sardines, anchovies, and salmon are cheaper per ounce, can be stored for much longer, and some brands test for heavy metals.

Canned beans are also a great source of plant-based protein and are highly nutritious. 

It is cheaper to purchase beans in their dried form, but it can take time to soak and cook them. If you’re short on time, canned beans are just as good and still inexpensive.

Cheaper Cuts of Meat

Meat has a hard time making the list of healthy, affordable foods

These days, with the cost of feed, fertilizer, and gas rising, meat has risen in price and become harder to justify purchasing for the financially conscious. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find good options.

In my area, boneless pork chops are always on sale for around $7-10 for two pounds. Not only are they cheap, but this is a super lean cut of meat that cooks up quickly.

Chicken thighs are also inexpensive, running between $3.49 and 3.99 per pound, depending on where you shop. The downside is that they are much fattier than chicken breasts. To make the best of these cuts, look for boneless, skinless options, and take your time to cut off visible fat.

If you don’t want to bother with all of that, chicken breasts are still very inexpensive at around $4.99 per pound.

If you want to get creative with your cooking, you could also try organ meats like liver and heart, which are significantly cheaper than most cuts of meat. 

Organ meats also contain high amounts of highly beneficial nutrients like iron, vitamin B12, vitamin A, copper, and riboflavin. 

Finally, if you like fish, tilapia, mackerel, and catfish are some of the cheapest options available at grocery stores.

Buy in Bulk

If you have room in your refrigerator, pantry, etc, purchasing your most-bought items in bulk can save you a whole lot of money, especially if there are ongoing sales or deals when you purchase “x” amount.

The best healthy bulk foods to look for are whole grains like brown rice, white rice, oats, quinoa, and dried beans, lean proteins that you can freeze, and frozen fruits and vegetables.

If you like trail mix for snacks, look for stores that also sell bulk food items like dried fruits and nuts.

Additionally, while a Costco membership can seem like a privilege, it’s an excellent way to save on both food and other essentials like toilet paper.

Meal Prep

Finally, meal prep is the absolute best way to use your groceries and ensure you stick to your meal plan.

With meal prepping, you take one day to make multiple meals for the week. This can include all three square meals, or be as simple as premaking dinner for the week.

Alternatively, you could prep twice a week (like on Sunday and Wednesday), if you don’t like the thought of your food sitting around in the fridge or your meals won’t freeze well. 

It does take time to meal prep, but it’s worth cutting down on cooking time during the week, especially if you’re a busy bee. 

Meal prepping also ensures that any fresh food you’ve purchased gets used up before it can go bad.

Save Food About to Go Bad

Speaking of food going bad, let’s talk about ways to preserve food before it spoils or if you’ve purchased perishables in bulk.


You will need some freezer bags and parchment or wax paper for meat. Place the meat into the bag and separate each piece or layer with a piece of paper to prevent sticking. 

Squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible and write the date on the outside of the bag before placing it in the freezer. Of course, always remember to FIFO! If you have other frozen meat that hasn’t been used yet, place those on top of the new meat so the old stuff is more likely to get used up first.


Herbs don’t last very long. Though inexpensive, it’s wasteful (not to mention annoying) to constantly purchase and throw them away.

To save your herbs, grab an inexpensive ice cube tray and olive oil or melted butter. Chop up the herbs and fill each cube about ⅔ of the way. 

Pour your oil or butter over them and place them in the freezer to set. You can leave them in the trays or take the cubes out and put them in a plastic tub or baggy to keep long term.

If you don’t want to save them in oil or butter, you can also just place them in a small sandwich baggy to use as needed.

Fruits & Vegetables

Fruits are pretty easy to freeze and pull out for use as needed. However, vegetables are a little trickier. They can be frozen, though, especially if you are just using them in stocks, soups, or sauces.

Always dice or slice fruits and veggies before placing them in a freezer bag or plastic tub.

Pro-tip: when prepping your veggies, place leftover skins, peels, or any cut-off bits in a separate baggy to use for stock!

Eat More Meatless Meals

If you’re trying to save money, eating less meat (at least for a short time) is a good way to cut expenses.

Instead, replace your calories with high-fiber, low-saturated fat foods such as minimally processed whole grains, beans, and legumes. These are also great sources of plant-based protein.

Not only does eating more of these foods cost less, but soluble fiber is good for your digestive health, helps better regulate blood sugar, can lower cholesterol, and even reduces the risks of heart disease.


What are the 3 P’s for eating healthy food on a budget?

Plan: Planning involves creating a budget, putting together a meal plan, and making a grocery store list.

Purchase: When you purchase food, stick to your list, look for deals at your local grocery store, and buy in bulk. Look for alternative options to purchase such as frozen or canned food and cheaper cuts of meat.

Prepare: Prepare food by meal prepping to make sure you stick to your meal plan and what you’ve budgeted to eat that week. You’ll also ensure you’re using what you’ve purchased by meal prepping. Finally, you can save food that is close to spoiling or what you’ve bought in bulk by freezing. If you’re an advanced saver, try canning at home!

What is the simplest diet you can live on?

Beans, rice, and lean protein. Add a few vegetables and you’re golden. This is the staple diet in many places around the world!

Is it really cheaper to eat at home?

It is far cheaper to eat at home than to eat out. When you eat out you’re paying a higher cost for the front and back of house employees and the ingredients since the restaurant has to recoup costs for their purchase and still make a profit. When you buy food directly from the store and cook at home, you are using more of your own personal time to prep and cook but you will save money.

  1. Hasani, A., Kokthi, E., Zoto, O., Berisha, K., & Miftari, I. (2022). Analyzing Consumer Perception on Quality and Safety of Frozen Foods in Emerging Economies: Evidence from Albania and Kosovo. Foods (Basel, Switzerland), 11(9), 1247. 

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